South Florida military veterans got an emotional and unforgettable experience over the weekend. As part of Honor Flight South Florida, they were invited to our nation's capital to visit the war memorials of the battles they fought.
"It's just almost heartbreaking but so beautiful. I've enjoyed every minute of it," said Edith Vancheri, WWII Army nurse veteran.
The sound of taps set the tone for the emotional and well-deserved trip of a lifetime for South Florida veterans.
"Now I'll have the chance to see them in person," said Alfred Phillips, WWII Army veteran.
Our hometown heroes headed to Washington, D.C. this weekend for one final mission: a chance to see the war memorials of the battles in which they served.
The free trip paired 153 WWII veterans with their elite guardians: Vietnam veterans. A water canon salute sent them off at Miami International Airport followed by cheering crowds at Washington Reagan.
Their first stop was the Changing of the Guard at Arlington National Cemetery.
"This kinda reminisces for me and it's quite pleasurable that I've lived as long as I have and I'm experiencing something that I never thought I'd be able to do," said Morty Bratton, WWII Air Force veteran.
There were grateful words from strangers at the WWII Memorial, stopping along the way to honor the men and women for their service. Many veterans were filled with emotion as the memories came flooding in.
The veterans were then whisked away to the powerful Vietnam Wall. Some remembered the buddies they lost in combat.
"I know exactly where he is on the wall. This is the saddest place in the whole world," said Jeff Wander, Vietnam veteran.
"Being here is just amazing. I have on this wall 156 friends if mine," said Sgt. Thomas "Stormy" Mateo, Vietnam Marine veteran and six-time Purple Heart recipient.
"It's very touching. It's very emotional, but it's also extremely gratifying. The welcome that we've had every stop of the way by thousands of people, thanking us for our service and applauding, it just means so very much," said Glenn Saffon, Vietnam veteran, military intelligence.
After the memorable visit, it was time to head home. The veterans were even surprised with "mail call" on the plane, reminiscent of their past service when letters were their lifeline back home. This time, they received touching words from school kids and family.
Back home, the celebrations continued as the veterans were given a long-awaited heroes welcome home.
"I'm being treated like I'm really important and I'm very grateful," Phillips expressed.
"This is like a homecoming that we've never had before," Sgt. Mateo added.